February 3–April 21, 2006
Ruth Chambers, “Through the Skin”
“Through the Skin,” an exhibition of two installations by ceramic artist Ruth Chambers, will be on display at the International Museum of Surgical Science from February 3 to April 21, 2006. The public is invited to attend a free reception for the artist on Friday, February 3, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.
Combining light and translucent porcelain with text and images, Chambers explores thresholds between the internal and the external, the material and the immaterial, as they have been conceived throughout history in medicine and metaphysics. The installation Beneath the Skin constitutes a “wall” of luminous ceramic vessels in the form of human organs, suspended at varying heights from the ceiling of the darkened gallery as if floating. Their thin surfaces glow with inscribed words that evoke the historical search for vitality, the source of life, within the body’s so-called vital organs, which, Chambers notes, are “very heavy with associative meanings in our culture.” The installation probes the metaphorical dimensions of life functions such as circulation, digestion, reproduction, respiration, and consciousness.
The second installation, entitled Materia Medica, builds upon the first, incorporating porcelain models of Renaissance apothecary jars imprinted with the leaves of medicinal plants. The work questions the utopian belief that a certain characteristic of a plant, such as the color or shape of its leaves, indicates its curative effects on the vital organ it resembles, an idea that originated in 17th-century mysticism and remained the foundation of herbal medicine well into the 19th century. Contrasting this ideal with images of our dystopic world, Chambers asks whether cruel and violent acts “have to do with the lack of an integration of the physical and the psychic or are they rather extreme perversions of a drive to transcend the material?” Materia Medica was created specifically for the museum, which features a recreation of a 19th-century apothecary shop.
“Through the Skin” is Chambers’ first solo exhibition in the United States. She has had numerous one- and two-person shows in Canada, and her work appeared in the international touring exhibition “Fire and Earth: Contemporary Canadian Ceramics.” Chambers lives in Saskatchewan, where she serves as an associate professor in the Department of Visual Arts and an associate dean in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Regina. She is also a member of the interdisciplinary collective Petri’s Quadrille, which investigates relationships between art and science, most recently focusing on the paradoxical existence of the number zero.
Chambers’ exhibition is the latest in the museum’s “Anatomy in the Gallery” series, which showcases contemporary art with medical themes.
Artists from Leonardo da Vinci to William Hogarth studied anatomy in order to represent the body from all angles. Now many contemporary artists are reexamining the subject from a modern perspective, and the museum exhibits their work as part of its mission: to enrich the lives of its visitors by enhancing their appreciation and understanding of medicine.